A government minister has insisted that the alleged alkali attack on a mother and her two young daughters in Clapham last week is “not really about asylum”.
Police are still hunting for Abdul Shokoor Ezedi, the suspect in the case, three days after it took place.
The mother is reported to have suffered “life-changing injuries” and she and the children remain in hospital.
It has been reported that Ezedi, who is from Afghanistan, twice unsuccessfully tried to claim asylum in the UK and has also been convicted of sexual offences.
He was eventually allowed to stay in this country after converting to Christianity.
The case has re-ignited the debate about the UK’s asylum system, with former immigration minister Robert Jenrick among those demanding answers.
On ‘Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips’ on Sky News this morning, education secretary Gillian Keegan was asked: “Many people are asking this question: ’How is it possible that someone turned down twice for asylum, when then commits a sexual offence - or more than one sexual offence - is granted refugee status by a tribunal? How is that possible?”
Keegan said home secretary James Cleverly had asked for the details of the case, but added: “This is not really about asylum, this is about the attack on a mother and her children, which was horrific.”
But Phillips said: “You say that it’s not about asylum, but it obviously is. If he had not been granted asylum, he wouldn’t have been free to do what he did.”
The minister accused Phillips of “conflating” two issues and added: “Anybody who commits crimes is not able to stay in this country if you have a sentence of more than 12 months.”
The presenter pointed out that Ezedi did have a criminal record and said: “Why was he free to roam the streets?”
Keegan said that was “something we need to get to the bottom of”.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Today programme presenter Nick Robinson accused Robert Jenrick of “drawing the wrong conclusions” by attacking the asylum system.
He said: “There’s a danger, isn’t there, from drawing from this case, the danger that it’s implied that lots of asylum seekers are criminals – whereas the vast, vast majority are not.
“That it is implied a lot are sex attackers – whereas the overwhelming majority are not.”
Jenrick said: “You’re right to say that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, and I would expect the home secretary to conduct a detailed review of what has gone seriously wrong in this case and to be put that information in the public domain.
“You’re also right to say that the majority – the vast majority claiming asylum – are law-abiding individuals.”
However, Jenrick said these kind of issues arise when people enter the country “illegally” because it means “we know absolutely nothing about these people” and some may be dangerous.
The backbencher also claimed the courts are “extremely sympathetic” and “naive” when it comes to handling these cases.